What will the future of unified communications look like?
By Vincent Chen, Ph.D.
Vincent Chen is Bell’s Technical Fellow in unified communications (UC), responsible for the technical vision, strategy and UC roadmap for Bell Business Markets. An established thought leader and hands-on practitioner in UC, Vincent has more than 25 years of experience developing innovative solutions for businesses across Canada and around the world and supporting them throughout their UC journey.
The promise of unified communications (UC) has always been to improve business productivity by seamlessly combining multiple communications streams; voice communications, team collaboration, multimedia conferencing tools and more. And it continues to deliver on its promise – integrating the demands of how users wish to communicate together with advanced technology trends such as speech recognition, cloud platforms and Artificial Intelligence (AI). The capabilities of UC have gone far beyond simple emails and phone calls; these tools now enhance the collaboration process itself – improving how people work and interact. The ability to stay connected has become an essential requirement for users, everywhere.
At Bell, the following eight pillars serve as our guiding principles as we evolve our UC platform. They ensure we develop the next generation of UC solutions to reflect what’s important to organizations across Canada. After all, our UC evolution will continue to be driven by the user experience demand combined with deep insights into technology advancements.
Team collaboration has traditionally involved a mix of separate mobile and desktop applications. In tomorrow’s UC solutions, these will be fully integrated with each other, enabling incredibly open collaboration via any media (voice, video, web), over any platform. Imagine starting a one-to-one text-based chat session that seamlessly turns into a multi-party video conference. Other team members and even external guests can be invited to collaborate with a few simple voice commands given to a virtual assistant. With this level of integration, any type of communications functionality will be readily available wherever and whenever it’s needed.
Over the next few years, advances in Al, machine learning and big data analytics will dramatically transform the way people interact with their UC systems. It’s about making and delivering smart solutions that remove all complexity or confusion, allowing people to just use them without roadblocks or headaches.
We’re not there yet, but soon we’ll have self-learning, self-improving, intelligent virtual assistants set up conferences and collaborative workspaces with no user intervention other than a voice command. If a participant is running late, the virtual assistant – without being asked – will send a reminder message or even auto-connect them to the conference. And during the conference, the virtual assistant might automatically offer up previous chats or other related files it anticipates to be needed.
Smart also means tailoring the experience to each person’s preferences and circumstances. I can picture a scenario where somebody dials into a conference through an in-car system and the UC solution automatically adjusts bandwidth and performance based on the connectivity being used. It could even narrate incoming chat messages because it knows the person is limited to voice only.
When everything is tightly and natively integrated through a single client, UC becomes much easier to use. But it has to become easier to manage, too. This means offering features such as self-serve portals, zero-touch provisioning and comprehensive reporting and analytics to simplify and accelerate troubleshooting and operations support.
With remote workforces becoming so important, full-featured UC applications will need to be available to mobile and wireless endpoints. Mobile and desktop apps should have the exact same features, with voice, video and multimedia delivered flawlessly over Wi-Fi and 4G/5G wireless networks. The future of UC will also involve full fixed–mobile convergence, supporting seamless transfers of voice, video and other multimedia between any two mobile or fixed endpoints.
A number of comprehensive security measures will be integrated into the next generation of UC solutions, including enhanced protection of user privacy and confidential information, encryption of data in transit and at rest, and mitigation of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks at all layers. More secure solutions will also ensure businesses can comply with industry standards, audits and other best practices.
We try our best here at Bell to solve for all problems faced by every customer. To achieve that an open, standards-based UC ecosystem will be key. In the future, providers will be required to integrate and interoperate with solutions from many different providers, ensuring everybody can tap into the innovations being created. This level of openness will also enable a more rapid evolution of UC applications, providing the agility to quickly respond to changing market and user needs.
Because businesses rely on real-time UC to power their day-to-day operations, they demand solutions of the highest quality. That means highly available software and hardware, delivered over a highly scalable and resilient network architecture. Only carrier-grade services from field-proven providers like Bell will be able to meet those requirements. Consumer-grade, over-the-top services, in comparison, will continue to face performance and quality issues, especially when it comes to meeting the needs of large enterprises.
For enterprise IT managers, UC applications and services must be reasonably and competitively priced. The total cost of ownership of any solution must be in line with the features, capabilities and performance it delivers.
At Bell, we see no limit to what UC can deliver. As exciting technological advancements are made, we’ll continue to push the boundaries to deliver the absolute best in UC solutions.